Piedmont's fame for its wines has an ancient origin: the Greeks were the first to bring wines of quality to the region, leaving from the eastern Mediterranean coast and reaching the coasts of Liguria with their ships laden with amphorae of wine. From Liguria, they penetrated the inland regions to reach Piedmont with vine shoots and cuttings, which were used for the establishment of the first vineyards. And so, in the middle of the golden age of Rome, the cultivation of grapes was already flourishing, so much so that Pliny the Elder, in his encyclopaedic Naturalis Historia, cited the use of wooden casks as wine containers in this region.
The descent of the Galls into Italy, according to Ariosto, is also responsible for the particular excellence and fame which the wines of Piedmont had enjoyed since the Roman era. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions, wine growing suffered near devastation. It remained, however, in good condition and continued to expand during periods of peace. The expansion of the grapevine continued even after the beginning of the second millennium, and many hilly regions in the areas of Alba, Asti, Bra, Cherasco and Monforte were covered with vineyards. The product was of such importance that in the 13th century, an act protecting the quality of the grapes was already set up in these areas. This act protected the grapes by prohibiting the harvest before 29th September, with strict rules disciplining the sale of wines in taverns. This body of legislation is recorded in grape harvesting proclamations of the time.
There are as many medieval documents from Piedmont which refer to the growing of grapevines in the region as there are wines produced. For treatise writing, remember the Liber Ruralium Commodorun of Pier de' Crescenzi, who at the end of the 14th century was already underlining the excellent technique used by the farmers of Monferrato in the cultivation of grapes.
The wines of Piedmont were already cited in the treatise De Natureali Vinorum Historia of Andrea Bacci, a doctor and naturalist born in Sant'Elpidio a Mare in 1524 and died in Rome in 1600. The book is one of the best written on the subject of wines.
Regarding the production of wine in Piedmont he writes: "Under the Alps then - since this region is surrounded and enclosed by unbroken chains of mountains, on both sides of the Po River, and conveniently called 'Pedemontana' (foot of the mountain) by its descendants - there is a very different quality of wines. For the most part they are subtle wines of a brilliant red colour, sharp and rarely sweet. Some others are golden, with a flame-like radiance, and as for their intense flavour they seem mediocre to the taste, but in any case they cause a heavy head in whoever drinks them, unless we are talking about someone with a very robust head. I myself, warned about this, while I was crossing this region in the summer of the year 1560, not very satisfied with those quite sharp wines and considering better those wines similar to the Greek wines and clarets of our area, learned at my own expense the truth of the warnings of my hosts, who affirmed that golden wines of that type are immature and cause a heavy head. Returning, therefore, to my clarets, I found out that they were lighter and passed easily. And I thought that in all those plains, surrounded in width and breadth by mountains, shaded here and there by trees, irrigated by the Po River and cut across by one hundred rivers and canals, it's no wonder that they produce such robust wines. The reason, it seems to me, is the constant reflection of the sun through the breaches in the dry mountains which stand around it. This sun, in the summer, slowly dries the golden grapes, in proportion to their varied distribution, and instils in them an intense heat. Therefore, with the aim of showing them, the Cisalpines and above all the lords make a show of enormous casks full of that wine in their cellars, casks which can contain fifty and even one hundred pitcherfuls and which are used to preserve the aged wines for many years. The older these wines are, the more their weight can be felt on the stomach and the more dangerous they are to the health. This is a defect I had already mentioned with regard to the wines of Pramnio and Cecubo (wines already famous in ancient times, frequently mentioned by Greek and Latin writers). The red and black wines of the region are not as strong, due to the nature of red and black grapes, which are similar to the Lambrusco grapes. And so that these wines have been given an appropriate name, they are called, "bruschi" (sharp). There are, moreover, some quite robust vines amongst the reds, such as the one gathered on the other side of the Po River, in the country around Ivrea. This city is situated in a higher place, below the mountains and in a sunny area, like Novara and Vercelli. In these vineyards, mixed with trees, these places produce stronger wines than the type mentioned above. These wines are praised and approved even in the dining halls of the Most Serene Duke of Savoia. And so they are transported to Rome in small casks from the port of Savona, and they are glorified in comparison to Lacrima and other generous wines of similar character by the natives (since everyone is partial to his own things)."
The quality of the wines became ever more important in the Renaissance courts, so much so that the personage of the 'bottigliere,' the person who advises, buys and combines the wines, became more popular. Sante Lancerio, the 'bottigliere' of Pope Paul III (1468-1549), left a letter addressed to Cardinal Guido Ascanio Sforza about the nature and quality of wines. This letter may be considered the first written example of Italian wine-making literature since it contained, for the first time, evaluations pertinent to single products, to their appearance, their aroma, their flavour, their aftertaste, as well as the alcohol content, duration, attitude toward transport, suitability for combination with foods, etc., etc. The letter lists some Piedmontese wines, such as "vino di Saluzzo" and "Vino di Inbreija" (Ivrea).
Being part of wine making has been a source of pride since the 17th century. This pride remained and still remains in Piedmontese culture, so much so that Carlo Alberto, to be counted among wine producers, built a cellar in Verduno for the production of Barolo and Moscato, and from this cellar rose the Cinzano di Bittoria establishment. In 1843 Cavour, wine producer, presented a note to the Agrarian Congress of Alba on the best way to organise the wine shops and wine cellars. Such was his interest in grapevines and wine that in his spare time he spent many hours pruning, harvesting and picking out new varieties of grapes.
The two large areas of the Langhe and Monferrato make up the habitat of Piedmontese vine growing. Monferrato is divided into Lower Monferrato, the northern portion, and Upper Monferrato, the southern portion. It is divided by the Villafranca d'Asti valley, the Borbore stream and the lower part of the Tanaro valley. Lower Monferrato is made up of a system of hills with higher elevations which reach 700 meters while Upper Monferrato has lower altitudes, with an average of 350 meters, extremely suitable for vine growing.
This is undoubtedly the area most densely covered with grapevines in the region, with Asti for centuries the centre of wines of high interest. These wines include Moscato di Canelli, introduced several centuries ago, Barbera, already well known in the 1700s and which spread due to its great adaptability, the abundance of production and high regard. Also Grignolino, which is considered native to the zone, though limited to a confined surface since it is needy in terms of terrain and climate, and is considered one of the most refined wines of Monferrato, Freisa, known a little bit everywhere, but limited in expansion, and black Malvasia.
Upper Monferrato, differing from the usual geographical use of the terms "upper" and "lower," as already mentioned refers to the southern part, and has lower altitudes in comparison to the hills of Asti. The slopes are steeper and the valleys less marked. The names Acqui, Ovada and Gavi are the provincial capitals of winemaking. There is considerable production of Barbera del Monferrato and Moscato d'Asti, and two brands of the esteemed white Cortese wine: Alto Monferrato and di Gavi. They are also noted for the richly flavoured Dolcetto di Acqui and di Ovada, and the lesser known (mostly due to modest production) but appreciated and prized by connoisseurs, Brachetto d'Acqui dessert wine.
The Langhe is a region full of splendid, barely defined hills, bound by the Tanaro and Bormida valleys, and the Ligurian Alps. The hills, which geographically speaking make up an extension of the Northern Apennines into Western Padania, slope down from an altitude of 700-800 metres.
Production of some of the most famous wines takes place in this region. These include not only Barolo and Barbaresco, but also Moscato d'Asti, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, even if there are several areas of production, the most important of which are Canavese, the hills of Chierese, and the Tortonese hills.
This is certainly the oldest Piedmontese wine. An ancient tradition says that the excellence of this wine attracted the population of Gaul to our country.
Barbaresco requires an ageing of at least two years and more than four years for the "reserva" type.
It has a garnet red colour with orange reflections, a distinctive aroma, etheric, agreeable and intense, with a dry flavour, full, robust, austere but velvety, harmonious and with a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent.
Barbera grapes are cultivated in the hilly area of the Tanaro River. The city of Alba, in the province of Cuneo, is at the geographic centre of the area, "capital" of the Langhe and home of the truffle. The products of Barbera grapes include three types of wine.
Barbera d'Alba has an intense ruby red colour when young, with a tendency toward garnet red after ageing. The aroma is intensely vinous yet at the same time delicate, with a dry flavour, full-bodied, with a marked acidity, lightly tannic. With ageing this wine becomes full and harmonious, with a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
Barbera d'Asti has a ruby red colour when young, with a tendency toward garnet red after ageing. The aroma is vinous and the fragrance distinctive, tending toward the etheric with ageing. The flavour is dry, tranquil, harmonious, and agreeable, with a full flavour after adequate ageing. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
It may boast the title of "superiore."
The title "vivace" (lively) may be suited to Barbera di Monferrato wine, since it is of a more popular variety, young and lightly sparkling.
It has a more or less intense ruby red colour, vinous aroma with a dry sometimes lightly sweetish flavour, with average body, sometimes 'vivace' (lively) or sparkling. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. It may boast the title "superiore."
Called "the king of wines," Barolo was famous even in ancient times if it is true that it enthused Julius Caesar, who found out about it coming from Gaul and who wanted to take it with him to Rome. It was Cavour, however, who spread its fame. When he bought the castle of Grinzane he planted two hundred thousand grapevines which he entrusted to the care of the French oenologist, Odoart.
Today Barolo is considered by the experts to be the best Piedmontese red wine, or at least "in the first row of the aristocracy of wine," as Stefano Guardi wrote.
Subject to an obligatory ageing of three years, the wine has a garnet red colour with orange reflections, a distinctive aroma, etheric, agreeable and intense, with a dry, full, robust, austere but velvety, harmonious flavour. The minimum alcohol content is 13 percent.
It may carry the phrase "reserva" on its label.
The best Barolo wines are those between the fifth and eighth years of ageing. They should be served at a temperature of 20-22 degrees C (68-72 degrees F), two hours after being uncorked.
The area of production is made up of various towns in the province of Asti and eight towns in the province of Alessandria, and its ideal centre is Acqui Terme.
Brachetto d'Acqui is sold as spumante and still or lightly sparkling. In this last case it has a ruby colour of medium intensity with a tendency toward light garnet ruby or rose. It has a musky aroma, very delicate and distinctive, a sweet, soft, delicate flavour, and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent. In the sparkling version, it has fine froth, persistent and brilliant in its clarity, with a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
Dolcetto is an historic wine which has been produced on a vine of the same name since the 14th century. According to some sources, the marquises of Saluzzo, on 5th July 1369, in exchange for Dolcetto for themselves and their lords, exempted the population of Dogliani from payment of taxes, military service and other obligations. And it was the marquises of Saluzzo again who, two centuries later, obtained the bishop's seat in Saluzzo by sending a large amount of their wonderful wine to Pope Julius II.
This wine takes its name from the seven areas in which it is produced.
Dolcetto d'Acqui is produced in twenty-three towns in the province of Alessandria. It has an intense ruby red colour, with a tendency toward brick red with ageing. It has a vinous aroma, light and distinctive, with a dry, soft, pleasingly almondy or bitterish flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
The Dolcetto produced with the best grapes is available for consumption after a year of ageing, with a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent, and may carry the phrase "superiore" on its label.
Dolcetto d'Alba is produced in the Albese hills to the right of the Tanaro. It has a ruby red colour, sometimes tending toward violet in the froth, a vinous aroma, agreeable and distinctive. The flavour is dry, pleasingly bitterish,, of moderate acidity, full-bodied and harmonious, with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
Dolcetto d'Asti is produced in the hilly area of Asti. It has a lively ruby red colour, a vinous aroma, agreeable and distinctive, with a dry, velvety, harmonious and moderately acidic flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba is produced in the limited area of the town of the same name. It has a ruby red colour, a vinous aroma, pleasingly distinctive, with a dry flavour, pleasingly almondy, moderate acidity, harmonious with good body and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
Dolcetto di Dogliani is produced in an area limited to the province of Cunio, which has Dogliani as its centre, and a very few other bordering towns. It has a ruby red colour with a tendency toward violet, a vinous aroma, agreeable and distinctive. The flavour is dry, harmonious, with fair body and a bitterish vein. Its minimum alcohol content is 11 percent.
Dolcetto di Ovada is produced in an area which includes approximately 20 towns in the province of Alessandria, and has Ovada as its centre. It has an intense ruby red colour with a tendency toward garnet ruby with ageing. It has a vinous, distinctive aroma. Its flavour is dry, soft, harmonious, pleasingly almondy and bitterish, with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
The first mention of this wine was in relatively modern times, toward the end of the 1600's.
Two different types have been recognised for their slightly different characteristics: Freisa d'Asti and Freisa di Chieri.
With the grapes from this noted Piedmontese vine, grown in the hilly zone around Asti, the prized cherry or garnet ruby red Freisa d'Asti wine is produced. It has a distinctive raspberry or rose aroma, and a sweet, fresh and agreeable flavour. Freisa d'Asti is often prepared as a sparkling wine, or naturally sparkling, while with more mature grapes the product, without at least one year of ageing, it takes on the characteristics of a superior wine.
Freisa d'Asti has a garnet ruby or cherry red colour, with a slight tendency towards orange if aged, and a distinctive, delicate aroma of raspberry or rose. On tasting, it has a sweet, fresh flavour with a very pleasing raspberry undertone and, in the dry type, with a short ageing, delicately soft. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent. The "superiore" type, produced with the best grapes, is aged for at least one year and has a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
The renowned dry or sweet red Freisa di Chieri wines have long been produced with the grapes of the Freisa vine, grown in the hills of Turin which, after the Maddalena Pass, push Eastward beyond Chieri. Dry Freisa di Chieri has a not very intense ruby colour. It has a fine aroma which recalls the aroma of raspberries or violets. It has a dry, acidulous flavour that becomes more delicate with ageing. The minimum alcohol content is 11 percent.
The sweet type, of the same alcohol content, has the same colour, and the same delicate aroma, which distantly recalls raspberries. It has a sweet and pleasingly aromatic flavour.
This wine is produced in the area near the city of the same name. Gattinara has boasted great fame for centuries, exalted by Oddone, Count of Savoia, who said, "It has conquered kings and crossed seas." This splendid wine already appeared on the tables of many the princely houses of Italy during the Middle Ages.
Gattinara has a garnet ruby colour with a tendency toward orange. It has a dry, harmonious flavour with a distinctive, bitterish note. It has a fine aroma, recalling violets, especially if aged for a long time. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12.5 percent. It is generally of the "riserva" type.
GAVI or CORTESE DI GAVI (DOCG)
Gavi or Cortese di Gavi is produced in the fairly narrow, hilly area of the province of Alessandria, between the Lemme stream, which has Gavi as its centre. The wine is produced exclusively with grapes from Cortese vines. Three types are produced. The still wine has a more or less intense straw colour, a delicate aroma and a dry, agreeable flavour and a fresh, harmonious palate with a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent. The sparkling wine has similar characteristics, while the 'spumante', with the same minimum alcohol content, has a more or less pale straw colour, a fine, persistent froth, and a fine, delicate, distinctive aroma. Its flavour is harmonious, full, dry and agreeable.
The two areas recognised for the production of Grignolino are Asti and Monferrato Casalese, each with a relative type of wine.
Grignolino d'Asti has a more or less intense ruby red colour, with a tendency toward an orange tone if aged. It has a distinctive, delicate aroma with a dry, slightly tannic, pleasingly bitterish flavour, with a distinctive aftertaste. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese is characterised by a light ruby red colour, with a tendency towards orange after ageing. It has a distinctive, dry flavour, pleasantly bitterish, with a distinctive aftertaste. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
Both types of Grignolino should be consumed young, at one to two years of age. If they are more than three years old they lose their valuable characteristics.
Malvasia is a historic species of vine, cited in Andrea Bacci's work De Naturali Vinorum Historia and referred to many Italian areas.
In Piedmont, there are two areas recognised for the production of Malvasia, which produce four types of wine.
Malvasia di Casorzo d'Asti has a colour which goes from ruby red to rosy cherry, depending on the vinification. It has a distinctive, fragrant aroma, with a sweet, lightly aromatic, soft, distinctive flavour. It has a minimum total alcohol content of 10.5 percent.
Casorzo spumante has a more or less intense rosy colour. Its aroma is distinctively aromatic, with a sweet, lightly aromatic, soft, distinctive flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent. Casorzo passito (raisin wine)has a deep ruby red colour with an intense, complex, distinctive aroma and a sweet, velvety, distinctive flavour. It has a minimum total alcohol content of 15 percent.
Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco has a cherry red colour with an aroma fragrant with the original grapes. The flavour is sweet, lightly aromatic and distinctive. It has a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent.
An ancient wine originating in Greece, in Piedmont Moscato d'Asti is produced mostly in the zone of Asti from which it takes its name.
It has a straw or more or less intense yellow colour with a distinctive aroma fragrant of muscatel. It has a sweet, aromatic, flavour, distinctive with the grapes from which it is made. Its minimum alcohol content is 10.5 percent.
Nebbiolo d'Alba, a wine of ancient tradition, is produced in a few towns in the area around Cuneo. It has a more or less deep ruby red colour with orange reflections in the aged product. It has a distinctive aroma, soft and delicate, recalling violets, which becomes more marked and perfected with ageing. Its flavour goes from dry to pleasingly sweet and full-bodied, properly tannic when young, then becoming velvety and harmonious. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent. It is produced in dry, sweet and spumante versions.